Sunday, September 26, 2010

Palestine: a ionesco play

Buildings are being erected throughout the play.

a group of Palestinian men and women: you've robbed us and taken from us nine out of the ten bedrooms that made up our house and now you are robbing us of our last bedroom

Spiritually Blessed Land Thief: Look, I really want to end the antagonism between us. I am going to put an end to the official process of robbing you. I'll only allow it to happen unofficially. we'll call it a temporary freeze. Let's talk peace.

Historically proven to be really efficient and unbiased American intermediary: now that's what I call fair. don't do the same mistake of refusing what is generously being offered.

Palestinian group of men and women start arguing; some scream 'let's be realist and take whatever we can end up with'; others say 'no point, they are intent on taking everything we should keep on claiming back everything'.

Palestinians for any piece of peace: we are for peace

Historically proven to be really efficient and unbiased American intermediary: good to see that there are still some rational and reasonable palestinians who are committed to peace. let's bring them to the peace table.

Palestinians not for peace: We have nothing to do with this. It seems that Being Spiritually blessed by god works well for some so we'd better do the same thing. From now on we are the Spiritually Blessed anti-Land thieves. we'll do anything that God tells us to do to stop you.

Spiritually Blessed Land Thief to American peace-seeking intermediary: see they're not very reasonable people. They're religious fundamentalists on top of that. not like us Spiritually Blessed urban cosmopolitans. Clearly there's no peace partner there.

Palestinians for any piece of peace to Historically proven to be really efficient and unbiased American intermediary: we are for peace but you have to make sure they don't keep stealing the last bedroom bit by bit.

American peace-seeking intermediary: didn't you hear what the Blessed Thief said. there is a temporary freeze. you are only being robbed unofficially. grasp this window of opportunity while it lasts.

Spiritually Blessed Land Thief: Too late. God's pressure is too great. we have to start stealing your land officially again. End of the freeze.

Palestinians for any piece of peace: that's not fair. we only agreed to have peace if you keep stealing the land unofficially.

Spiritually Blessed Land Thief: So I have officially resumed stealing your land while we're negotiating peace. why should that matter? I invite you not to let such minor details affect your commitment to peace. you should know that my hand and my heart are open for the peace of the brave.

Palestinians for any piece of peace: No! We insist on our right to be robbed unofficially. Our honour is at stake here.

Historically proven to be really efficient and unbiased American intermediary: Come on you guys, let's not miss this GOLDEN opportunity.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tea Party needs some soothing herbal tea

I am not saying this is the only thing that the Tea Party is about, but I was hearing some of them interviewed recently and they clearly have a historical continuity with the followers of David Duke (The Association for the Advancement of White People) that I did fieldwork with in Baton Rouge in the mid/late nineties.

Listening to them, I have no doubt that some are traumatised by the fact that they have a black president called Barack Hussein Obama. Like they really think the unthinkable is happening and are *seriously* traumatised in a way so foreign to our largely liberal imagination that our imagination cannot even begin to understand how traumatizing this is for them. I really think that most of the attempts to understand them with the usage of normal categories of sociological thought are bound to fail because it does not take into account the nature of their difference(similar to Islamic fundamentalists in this regard). They constitute a radical alterity. They are what Husserl calls an 'accessible inaccessibility'. They are accessible enough for us to know they are there but not enough to know what they are on about. You really need a serious prolonged fieldwork experience with them, one that takes you completely out of your comfort zone and make you reconsider your basic categories of understanding the political landscape if you are to begin to understand them. I hope/I am sure some researchers are already doing this.

My guess is part of their trauma is animated by the following paradox:

Trauma is not just about something you think is disastrous happening to you. It is about something disastrous happening such that your imagination is unable to internalise it and then find the language to express it. For the tea party people the trauma is that what they consider as one of the most sublime and sacred positions on earth: the presidency of the united states is occupied by what they consider as one of the most abject positions on earth: a guy that combines blackness (his look), liberalism (his politics) and Islam (his name). This creates a short-circuiting of the common racist imaginary as how can you say the things your really want to say about a liberal black guy with the name of Hussein while knowing that you are saying them about the president of the united states of America. All the other economic/globalisation etc...that animate this mob are emotionally articulated to that black/hussein-ish presidency.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The illocutionary force of leftist discourse

A very old and interesting debate at the interface of philosophy, sociology, linguistics and anthropology is the question of the illocutionary force of an utterance. Most forcefully argued by J.-L. Austin, illocutionary force concerns the power of an utterance to act convincingly on a listener and whether such force is intrinsic to and a property of language as such or is derived from social positioning and social relations. So if someone says to you, 'you are intrinsically a moronic fool', what are the forces at work in the utterance that will make you consider the proposition seriously. Sociologists, a la Pierre Bourdieu, and sociologically influenced linguists like Austin, would argue that the capacity of the statement to have an impact depends on the social legitimacy and the authority of the speaker within given social relations. If a respected professor of linguistics makes this utterance to a junior colleague at a workshop, it is likely, though, of course, there might be other variables that can make a difference, that the person will take the statement seriously: it might devastate them, it might upset them and lead to a vigorous defence of their view, etc... The social setting influences in a variety of ways: the setting of the workshop in front of other colleagues might make the utterance exceptionally powerful and it might make the person on the receiving end more vulnerable. If it is uttered in a coffee shop at university, it might be less powerful. In a coffee shop outside the university even less powerful etc...
Sociological arguments of the social efficacy of language do not stop at this. Some linguists will argue that if the linguistic professor ends up, following a shipwreck, on a deserted island with people who don't know or understand the nature of his authority his utterance might still muster some linguistically rather than socially derived social efficacy. So, if he says to someone 'you are intrinsically a moronic fool', they might still be flabergasted by his capacity to put intrinsically, moronic and fool in one sentence and might submit to him. Sociologists will say that this is still a social power derived from the recognition of his social capacity to choose and put together certain words; that his authority still depends on someone recognizing that it is indeed skilfull to be able to put these words together. For, the professor might end up with people who are not impressed at all by either his choice of words or the way he utters them and might look at him and say: 'fuck off you bloody wanker' and the professor's power might just melt away.
Nonetheless, for Bourdieu, people with power internalise their position of power and it ends up reflecting itself in their statements. They acquire a habitus of power, or what Nietzsche would call a 'sense of power', which transcends specific situations. Like the old English aristocracy, which can loose all the social and economic basis of their power but still convincingly project a sense of artistocratic power. Bourdieu argues that this is so because every habitus has a conatus, a Spinoza-derived term meaning: a tendency to persevere in one's own being. The conatus allows for the reproduction of a sense of power even if the conditions which have given someone a sense of authority has disappeared.
Now that the lecture is over let me say that I feel that this applies to understanding progressive and conservative discourses today in Australia. I think that conservative utterances still project a sense of power from the Howard years despite the fact that the conditions of right wing dominance from which this sense of power was derived no longer exist. Progressive utterances on the other hand still suffer from the historical decline of left-wing thought and left-wing politics after the demise of Marxism and Communism. Yet, I feel that the elections show that there is a healthy section of the Australian population that is both progressive enough to not fall for 'the boats are coming discourse' or 'there is no such thing as global warming', ethical enough not to feel like rewarding a power-driven instrumentalist political culture of assassination no matter which side of the political spectrum it emerges from, and what's more they have a good acute sense of social justice. So, I hope the progessive left will now start to re-internalise a sense of power and legitimacy so that they can convincingly tell the racist/populationists, the anti-environmentalists, etc... exactly what they ought to hear about themselves: that they are intrinsically a bunch of moronic fools. The progressives must be able to withstand those reactionary journalists who, affecting to represent the 'true people', will tell them something: 'fuck off you bloody wankers'. They must now see them for what they are, people who are trying to bolster their legitimacy by affecting to represent a population they no longer represent.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The conservative mood

Why is it that everywhere left liberals succeed in getting elected to government they have to spend their time defending themselves against aggressive right wing attempts to delegitimize them as if it is the conservatives who are in power and the government in opposition?
It is a bit of a mystery because on one hand one can say that the general mood is conservative and the government has to cater for that general mood. Yet, the left liberal government did get elected after all.
This is true of Australia where sometimes you would really think that it is the Liberal party that is in power and the government in opposition. The conservatives make their points as if they own the moral high ground while all left positions are uttered as if apologetically. This is all the more strange since the opposite is true. Why can someone like Abbott manage to take such a morally bankrupt position on boat people and sound so aggressively self-righteous and moral at the same time? It is truly puzzling. Why do atheists need to act as if they have something to apologise for?
We see the same thing in the US, with Obama elected as a left liberal but the conservatives acting *convincingly* as if the government is illegitimate from day one. Witness the Mosque debate now. Never have so many morally bankrupt people sounded so self-righteously moral. Why do conservatives get away with so much aggressivity while in opposition while elected governments who represent the majority have to be careful about right wing sensitivities? Why does not the right feel the need to be careful about left wing sensibilities?
I truly find this puzzling. and I don't think it is just because the left liberals who get elected are whimps. They are. But there is some deep tendency in the Western collective unconscious that is governing the mood of our times and I can't really work out what it is.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


I just watched Julia Gillard in my hotel room in Paris. It's not just that I think that this population stuff is just wrong, simplistic and politically objectionable but I actually find Julia genuinely dislikeable. Particularly so in my Paris hotel. I keep containing myself not wanting to say anything too intensely negative about Gillard thinking that it is always possible that residual sexism is the source of the intensity of my feelings.
One has to be conscious and reflexive and self-critical about this. Look at so many critics of Obama who supposedly are engaging in very rational criticism of him and you cannot fail but see that their is racism, if not motivating the critique, at least giving it that extra little intensity.
So, I watch Julia and I try to contain myself. but this time I couldn't. No fucking way mate.
I think a woman PM is a good thing. I can appreciate the fact that my daughters look and see that there is a woman who is a PM and it broadens the horizon of the possible for them. In that sense any woman PM is good for women. But there is also a kind of political fetishism at work. Marx called commodity fetishism the process whereby among other things the consumer sees the commodity and thinks that it has hopped on a vitrine witout there being a labour process that has brought it about. As if its value is independent of the process of making it.
Likewise, political fetishism would be to fall into the trap of thinking that the value of a politician merely depends on their relation to other politicians without looking at the labour and the processes that have gone into making them as politicians. If we abandon this fetishistic position, a woman prime minister who has been brought in by a party machine is not the same as a woman prime minister who has been brought in directly by a popular struggle by women, for instance. And I am aware that it can be said that without popular struggle by women the party machine would not have got to the point where it can choose a woman. But I still think that it is not the same. I can't see Gillard and her sickeningly polished performances in abstraction from the very direct ugly, instrumental and inhumane, material process that has made her an electable prime minister.
Perhaps it's not just her and I've had it with professional politicians. The more professional they become the more I hate them and that's what it is: she is just too bloody smooth and good and slippery and shiny. Politicians like this appear before us on the screen and I feel that they are like Harry Potters' dementors. They suck the life out of our culture and society rather than breathe life into it. they are a depressive weight rather than an uplifting force. Maybe I should start a Society for the deprofessionalisation of politics.
and so, with these critical reflections behind me, I am going to allow myself to say, that yes, I saw Julia Gillard on TV in Paris and I said to myself: NO FUCKING WAY mate!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Colonial Necrophilia

I've often written about this pathology that I've called 'colonial necrophilia'.
It involves loving people after you have killed them socially and politically. In Australia the love of Indigenous art, spirituality, etc. is a good example.
For most often than not, colonial necrophilia is a kind of post-genocidal love.
In New Zealand, where the Maoris have not been compeletely 'pacified', it would be interesting to do a market analysis: I am willing to bet that it will show a simple correlation whereby the love of Maori art goes up and down according to how agro the Maoris are projected to be towards the Pakeha at any given moment.
This is why I think that there is a form of colonial ressentiment that emerges when a colonised people or people who are subjected to a process of colonisation simply refuse to 'die'. You feel the colonisers telling them in a frustrated way: why all the hatred, why don't you just die so that I can love you.
This necrophilic desire, can be seen anywhere in the world, but it is particularly rampant in the West these days as those westerners who are still articulared to a colonial imaginary and who look at the world with colonial eyes, feel increasingly insecure about 'their' power of to affect things in the world. They have a brittle 'sense of power'(Nietzsche).
In the Middle East, this necrophilic desire is behind the inability of most Israelis and Westerners to cope with anyone even mildly opposed to their colonial politics there. Please die they tell anyone opposing them. Die so that love and peace can reign supreme.
Even though, I am being a bit crude here, but it is still more likely to be true than not that whenever and wherever you see a 'successful' and 'highly appreciated' Arab leader in the west you can be sure that he is a colonial arse licker. And you have to be pretty 'dead' to be a colonial arse licker!
Conversely, As soon as anyone shows that they are not compliant and are capable of showing traces of 'life' they become the 'devil' or as is more common to call devils these days, they become 'terrorists'. and they work in dark magical ways such as the very mention of their name ought to be avoided. You don't have to be an anthropologist to know about the powers of mentioning names, you only have to have read Harry Potter and remember 'you know who'.

I am thinking about this in relation to the sacking yesterday of Octavia Nasr from CNN in the US, for tweeting the following horror: 'Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Muhammad Hassein Fadlallah... one of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot'.

Fadlallah was the spiritual leader of the Shi'a community in Lebanon. Octavia Nasr is actually wrong to see him as a 'Hezbollah' giant as he was not affiliated with them and has been critical on many occasions of some of the Iranian influence among them.

But that is not the point. The point is that Fadlallah IS a giant as far as clerics go. I mean, I am an atheist, and I don't like the fact that the Shi'as' political culture is so imbued with religious symblism, but I can still recognise that, given that this is how it is, Fadlallah managed to be an important progressive anti-fanatical voice.

But this is not only something that the US government and many Americans dont agree with, which is fair enough, but they feel so strongly about the guy that you are not allowed to mention his name let alone say something positive about him. Why? because apparently he is a 'terrorist'. So admiring him as a reformer is a threat to the security of the United States of American. It is also a biased and an unbalanced point of view which requires your sacking if you hold a media position. If Ariel Sharon dies (has he died or is he still alive?) would a journalist get the sack for tweeting that an Israeli giant has died? of course not. The guy is only a mass-murderer unlike Fadlallah who has done much worse.

Why is Fadlallah considered a terrorist in the US? because he is seen to be behind the bombing of the American soldiers who landed in Lebanon in the middle of the civil war twenty five years ago or so, to help 'pacify' the place. I don't know if Fadlallah was behind this but the idea that you become a terrorist, and someone who should not be spoken about in positive terms no matter what, if you attack American soldiers who come and land in your country and try to tilt the balance of power against you is nothing but a necrophilic joke.
The Americans and the Israelis are such bad losers they just can't cope with the idea that someone succeeds in giving their military, a military drubbing, in what is a military confrontation. They become seriously full of necrophilic venom and resentment for anyone who is imagined to be successful in this way. This is what is behind this stupid sacking of Octavia Nasr, a christian Lebanese who dared say that the terrorist Fadlallah is a 'giant'.
This also raises an issue which is really important to think about. How can the US, Australia or any other western countries expect to reconcile the fact that they consider a devil someone who is considered a saint by thousands of Shi'a immigrants and even non-immigrants living within their borders. Almost all those Shi'a will feel that Fadlallah is a highly ethical man. How can you expect people to 'blend' and integrate in countries that treat your heroes as devils. This is a genuinely important question that cannot be easily answered? unless you are one of those seriously mentally distrubed people who think that this makes all Shi'a in the west enemies and mass deportation is the only answer. Paradoxically, events such as this sacking, makes this mad option look like a common sense option.

Monday, July 5, 2010

final version of that poem

There was and there was not

I don’t write poems
but, in any case,
poems are not poems.

Long ago, I was made to understand that Palestine was not Palestine.
I was also informed that Palestinians were not Palestinians.
They also explained to me that ethnic cleansing was not ethnic cleansing,
and that land theft was not land theft.

When naive old me saw freedom fighters, they patiently showed me
that they were not freedom fighters,
and that resistance was not resistance.

And when, stupidly, I noticed arrogance, oppression and humiliation
they benevolently enlightened me so I could see that arrogance
was not arrogance,
oppression was not oppression,
and humiliation was not humiliation.

I saw misery, racism, inhumanity and a concentration camp.
But they told me that they were experts in misery, racism, inhumanity
and concentration camps and that I have to take their word for it:
this was not misery,
not racism,
not inhumanity, and,
not a concentration camp.

Over the years they’ve taught me so many things:
invasion was not invasion,
occupation was not occupation,
colonialism was not colonialism, and,
apartheid was not apartheid.

They opened my simple mind to even more complex truths
that my poor brain could not on its own compute:
Having nuclear weapons was not having nuclear weapons;
Not having weapons of mass destruction was having weapons of mass destruction.
And, a democratic election (in the Gaza Strip) was not a democratic election.
Having second-class citizens (in Israel) was democratic.

So you’ll excuse me if I am not surprised to learn today that there are
more things that I thought were evident that are not.
Peace activists are not peace activists,
piracy is not piracy,
and the massacre of unarmed people is not the massacre of unarmed people.

I have such a limited brain and my ignorance is unlimited.
And they’re so fucking intelligent. Really.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Has just come out of ’12 Angry Lebanese’. An unbelievably powerful film documenting the way a Lebanese female comedian and drama therapist succeeded in getting together a group of hardened male prisoners made out of murderers, rapists and drug dealers, and successfully worked with them for more than a year on staging the play ’12 Angry Men’.
Feminism is about many things. It is about undermining patriarchal relations of power and empowering women of course. But it can also be about getting men to critically reflect and transform their masculinity, not necessarily to become non-masculine, though that is an option, but at least to reach a masculinity that is not enmeshed in patriarchal relations of domination. In that last sense, '12 Angry Lebanese' is an incredible feminist achievement.
Even when marginalised and devalorised as criminals, many male prisoners, and in most societies, are often perceived and idealised as the embodiment of an untamed masculinity. In this idealisation crime is perceived as letting one’s masculinity do the talking whether in the form of physical or social or sexual male self-assertion. The film’s prisoners are representative of a common working-class form of Lebanese hyper-masculinity. In the interviews that run throughout the film, the prisoners in fact describe to us some of the key features of this masculinity and particularly, its virulent narcissism, in very vivid terms.
But as they become involved in the play, the hyper masculinity of the prisoners starts unravelling and they begin confronting it as part of what has led them to crime. The result is tragic all the more so as it is happening in front us on camera. By tragic I don’t mean sad as much as what Pierre Vidal-Naquet defines as proper to tragedy as a form. I don’t remember where or exactly what he says. But he defines tragic action as an action that manages to hybridise rational reflection on oneself and one's aims while at the same time knowingly risking oneself by entering the unknown that constantly escapes us. Through their active participation in the play the prisoners were definitely making certain choices involving a rational comfrontation with their own hyper masculinity. But at the same time the confrontation was also very clearly taking them into uncharted territories in which we can see them coming face to face with the unknown: something that is shown to be both frightening and exhilirating at the same time.
I think the film was also feminist in a powerfully non-universalist sense: it not only captures the cultural specificities of this masculinity but it was also attuned to a culturally specific way of speaking to it critically without making the prisoners experience their de-masculinisation as dis-empowerment and de-phallicisation. Indeed the opposite is true. We can see them experience their de-masculinisation as liberation: A truly remarkable achievement.
I hope that the film is given a commercial run. I hope that at least it will circulate within the Lebanese and Arab community here. Especially that some of the Lebanese, here in Australia more so than anywhere in the world, seem to have inherited some of this working class/under-class Lebanese hyper-masculinity.
In the meantime, the Arab Film festival will move from Sydney to a capital city near you. Check it out and go and see this film, and perhaps you can also see through it the sterility and cheer dumbness, when its not the outright racism, of those westerners who use sexism and patriarchy as instruments of a cultural war against Arabs and Muslims.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Extractive Cultures

I have been writing about cultures of 'extraction' this morning. It probably has to do with the rise and rise of Australia as a Mining Nation. For what is a mining nation if not a nation grounded in an economy of extraction? Extraction is also probably the single most important practical form underlying all of capitalism: whether extraction of value from the earth or extraction of labour power from people. And isn’t capitalist industrial technology primarily a technology of extraction, not just extracting minerals but extracting from minerals (like extracting atoms). Even information technology is today vested with a function of extraction of knowledge: the extraction of DNA, for example.
Perhaps this is a form of economic determinism but I think that we live in a culture where extraction as a practical and cultural form permeates many dimensions of our everyday life. It has more of a presence than I would like it to, anyway! This is because, and I don’t think it is just my own subjectivity, but I find that there is something vicious about the notion of extraction. I think of torture: extracting information from a prisoner (for the good of humanity, bien sur). There is something vicious about extraction even when we talk of the extraction of a fragrance from a plant, or, even more paradoxically when it involves the pursuit of health like extracting a tooth or extracting a cancer. The undoubted positive effect of the extraction remains haunted by the extraction itself.
So what is it about extraction that is dislikeable. My guess at the moment is that, like black magic, it diminishes our life force in a sympathetic kind of way. Whenever we see an extraction a bit of our life is extracted with it. It is like when we witness a death of a human being or in indeed the destruction of any object that we consider a positive force in our lives (like, precisely, the extraction of a tree). Despite the disruptive nature of our presence on this planet, we humans derive a silent pleasure from things around us being left as they are: their very presence untouched around us augments our being. This is what I call the gift of presence. Things around us are an offering in themselves, not because they actually offer us a specific gift of some sort. A fruit tree is an offering well before it offers us its fruits, for example. It is an offering by merely existing as a tree next to us. It’s presence is a life force.
Extraction disrupts this ethical economy of co-presence. First, extraction does not let things be. It is the epitome of instrumental logic. It captures what exists with and along us and transforms it into something that exists for us. At the same time, it radically and surgically alters it in its very being: it makes it less than it was before it encounters it.
Is that not why the wind turbine appeals to us? it uses the wind but it does not extract anything from it. Likewise, with solar energy, there is diversion but there is no extraction. Could that be where the utopian impulse of sustainable energy forms comes from?